Welcome to The Palace Guard, the tai chi chuan and martial arts blog for intelligent martial practitioners. As the blog develops, I hope to feature other writers with a fresh take on the martial arts and related subjects. For now, I hope you enjoy my posts: feel free to leave comments, or email me at the address available on the profile.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Competition Pushing Hands: all Bull and no Matador?

From amongst the Monkey Army,two or three young and not-so-young bucks are revving up their tai chi thing to prepare for the annual slogfest which is the Oxford Chinese Martial Arts Tournament in Blackbird Leys, Oxford. I think this year I'll sit this one out: I've never been much good at competitions...
The first time I competed in Fixed Step, my opponent outfoxed me with a bizarre tactic not seen before nor since: he would simply grab my hand and touch it on the floor. Completely unlikely I know. In the Moving Step I was unaware of the number of rounds and lost by a single point, thinking I had more time. For my second visit, I fared better in the Fixed Step, ultimately losing to a fellow who used the same technique on me sixteen times. In the second round, I got him back with one sole technique, but only fifteen times. In the Moving, the referee kept penalising me for grabbing the shirt, which, when someone's wearing a long-sleeved baggy jersey, is pretty hard not to do. The opponent even apologised to me when he won on penalties, having been thrown about like a small sack of potatoes for most of the round. Ah well.
It's good to put oneself under pressure in an event such as this. Quite frankly one learns that 90% of technique and skill goes out of the window, and that luck plays a leading role. I think to concentrate exclusively on competition-style tai chi can limit one's scope and deftness, and that the way the bouts themselves are structured doesn't help, but on the other hand  if you are looking for a good-old fashioned ire-fuelled ruckus, then weigh up and sign up. Good luck, morituri te salutant and all that.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

The Gloom is coming for me...

Friends have said that I've put on years, that I have about me the air of a lifer, like Red in the Shawshank Redemption only without the folksy charm (and the murder record...). Yes, I've joined the doomed ranks: on Monday I taught my first tai chi lesson, swiftly followed by another the next day. I am now (technically) a tai chi teacher. My merciful students as yet have spared me the Big Question: "What is chi?", but I know it's out there, further along the road, waiting for me. Amongst the Monkey Army we often like to talk about The Gloom, but always keeping it from the vulnerable ears of any brand-new neophytes that might be present. The Gloom takes a year or two to kick in, and is exemplified in the line from the Classics: "Do a bitter practice". The Gloom can be triggered by a number of things. The aforementioned question will do it. Attendance at any large tai chi gathering will also suffice. More often it comes when the full enormity of the tai chi task is realised, that no matter how many hours you put in, it'll never be enough...
The goalposts are not only moving; they are set in quicksand and made of jelly.
Make no mistake: there is considerable Gloom surrounding the practice of tai chi, despite the cheerfully Californian leanings of some of its practitioners. But I claim the right, along with footsoldiers of all ages past, to some quality grousing and moaning time. Secretly, I love the Gloom. Being British, if I do not spend at least two hours a day beefing about something, my head will implode.
Oh, and thanks to the poor, innocent students who showed up.